Indian vets have carried out a rare blood transfusion on a seven-month-old tiger in a desperate effort to save the animal's life after it was attacked by angry villagers.
The female tiger - still technically a cub - was provided with blood from two adult tigers being held in captivity after she and her sister were rescued by wildlife officials after being beaten by the villagers in Maharashtra, in central India. As is often the case in this country, the villagers were fearful that the two animals were poised to attack children and cattle.
"The cubs were in bad shape at the time they were rescued. They were starving," said Bimal Majumdar, the chief wildlife officer in the region. "The villagers had also beaten them with sticks so they were injured as well."
The cub that required the transfusion - named Juhi after a fragrant white flower that is native to India - was yesterday said to be in a serious condition in a zoo in the city of Nagpu. Juhi and her sister, Jai, were rescued two weeks ago after they were apparently abandoned by their mother and then attacked.
At Nagpur, Juhi underwent what is believed to be the first such blood transfusion of its type. Increasingly concerned about her condition and her falling haemoglobin levels, officials sent a request to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, where doctors tranquilised two adult tigers and drew three-fourths of a pint of blood from each of them.
"The blood grouping procedure is critical, but in India there has been no work done on blood groups," Vinery Jangle, the park’s head veterinarian, told the Associated Press. "There are no studies on blood types and wild tigers."
At the beginning of the 20th century, India’s tiger population was estimated to be as large as 100,000. But last year The Independent revealed how Indian officials had been informed that the numbers had fallen to as low as 1,300 animals. For a nation that is home to perhaps 80 per cent of the world’s wild tigers, the revelation was staggering and the government undertook to take more steps to preserve the animal and its habitat.
But India’s growing population and the spread of urban areas is increasingly putting humans into contact with tigers. As a result, many villagers see tigers as a deadly menace rather than something to be preserved and treasured.
At the same time, large numbers of tigers fall victim to poachers providing the East and South-East Asian trade in rare animals parts and furs. For all its promises, the Indian government has yet to effectively address the issue of poachers. There are also other challenges the tigers of South Asia; in the Sunderbans - the delta region of India and Bangladesh - rising sea levels is destroying tiger habitat and placing them in increased contact with humans.
The rarity of the animals explains the efforts that officials were prepared to take to try and save Juhi. Pandurang Munde, director of the wildlife part in Mumbai, said: "We needed to save the young one’s life. If the hemoglobin was low, there was only one remedy - blood transfusion."
Last night, Juhi was being closely monitored. She was attached to a saline drip and CCTV had been installed so that officials could watch her health around the clock. "She is still not in good shape," said Mr Majumdar. "So we have our fingers crossed."